For Michael McCarron, one of the best things about beating the Quebec Remparts at the Memorial Cup was scoring a goal on fellow Montreal Canadiens prospect Zach Fucale.
"Yeah, he's a good buddy of mine," McCarron said Tuesday. "You always want the upper hand against your friends. It was good to get that."
Fucale didn't think so. Only 2:18 into the game against the Ontario Hockey League champion Oshawa Generals, McCarron parked his six-foot-six 225-pound bulk in front of the Quebec net and deflected Michael Dal Colle's shot behind the helpless goaltender.
"He obviously had a good night against us. Quite obviously," Fucale said with mock indignation.
McCarron certainly did.
The 20-year-old had a goal and an assist, forechecked and cycled the puck relentlessly and was one of the standout players of a game the Generals won 5-4 in overtime. It would likely have been a more lopsided score had Fucale not made several superb saves among the 50 shots he faced.
Both are part of a so-far exceptional 2013 NHL draft for many teams. The Canadiens got McCarron 25th overall, forward Jacob de la Rose, who has already reached the NHL, 34th and Fucale 36th. Their pick No. 86 in that draft, winger Sven Andrighetto, has also seen NHL action.
McCarron was not impressive when he moved from the U.S. National Development team to the London Knights in 2013-14, with 34 points in 66 games as a right winger.
Moved to centre this season, he had 22 goals 41 points in 25 games for London before he was traded Jan. 1 to the Generals. His goal production dropped to six in 31 games while adapting to a new, defence-first system, but not his overall play.
"It's not like were reinventing anything," said Generals coach D.J. Smith. "(The Knights) did a great job with him from last year to this year.
"When he came to us his improvement was outstanding and he just kept getting better."
Smith feels McCarron has a future in the NHL, although he may have to get a little stronger and spend some time in the AHL in St. John's.
McCarron says he has become a more well-rounded player than he was a year ago, when he and his Knights teammates bowed out with an 0-3 record as the host team at the 2014 Memorial Cup.
"I feel I'm a versatile player," he said. "I can play on the wing or at centre.
"It gives me an opportunity to play in the NHL at any position. I don't think I'm offensive minded. I think I'm a two-way player. I don't want to be one-way minded."
A setback came when he was among the first players cut from the U.S. squad for the world junior championship in December. Fucale backstopped Canada to a gold medal and de la Rose was captain of Sweden's team at the same event. Picked 116th, clever playmaker Martin Reway led Slovakia to a surprise bronze medal.
But now McCarron has a Memorial Cup to shoot for, playing on what has been the most impressive of the four teams so far.
"You've got to get over it," he said. "I went back to Oshawa with a great team, ready to make a playoff push, and here I am.
"So I'm not too worried about that any more. Cole Cassels (also cut from the U.S. team) is in the same boat. We both used it as motivation to be the best team in the OHL."